Growing up in California, Paolo Dungca never saw Filipino food in an upscale setting. If anything, the restaurants he encountered when he moved from the Philippines to the US at age 13 were mom and pop shops serving “ugly but delicious” dishes, often scooped behind a counter. But over the span of his cooking career, Dungca has helped to elevate the cuisine and bring it mainstream attention, working at modern Filipino restaurants such as Bad Saint, Kaliwa, and Pogiboy. All of that experience will culminate at his new H Street corridor restaurant Hiraya, which means “the fruit of one’s hopes and dreams and aspirations.”
The restaurant will open in two parts. A casual all-day cafe, set to debut Saturday, September 30, will feature colorful lattes, Filipino breakfast, and other comfort foods. Later this year, the upstairs dining room and bar will serve more upscale dinner fare and a tasting menu. Dungca has teamed up with Juan and Jeremy Canlas, the father/son owners of Supreme Barbeque (they are also his partners at Annandale Filipino barbecue joint Sari Filipino Kusina). “Being in the industry, I always knew Paolo’s work,” says Jeremy, who shares Dungca’s Filipino heritage. “In the back of my head, I was like we have to work together someway, somehow.”
The downstairs cafe will open around 8 AM with coffee, fruity iced teas (with optional boba pearls), and lattes incorporating flavors like ube and pandan. Sure to be an Instagram hit: the birthday cake-inspired “Makulay,” meaning “colorful,” latte with rainbow foam and sprinkles. (It tastes like birthday cake too.) Hiraya is sourcing its coffee from Maryland-based Sun & Stars Coffee Roaster, which imports its beans from the Philippines.
“Every time you go to a coffee shop, it’s always the classic American or French,” Dungca says. “I’ve always just been really interested in infusing our heritage with coffee. Because in the Philippines, it’s mostly powdered coffee.”
Filipino breakfast will be served morning to night. The plates come with garlic fried rice, fried egg, pickled papaya slaw, and a choice of marinated meats or veggies (pork belly, shortribs, or maitake and enoki mushrooms). You’ll also find egg-and-cheese sandwiches and pastries, including adobo chocolate chip cookies and buko (coconut) pie. Dungca will also be bringing back Pogiboy’s famous tocino burger with a purple ube bun, which graced the cover of Food & Wine magazine last year. The Hiraya version is similar, but won’t have a pineapple topping. Other lunchier dishes will include a riff on steak frites with a sauce made of burnt onions, dark soy, and calamansi, plus yeasted onion dip for the fries. While Filipino food often has a reputation for being meaty and greasy, Dungca wants to have plenty of vegetarian and healthy dishes too. One example: fresh spring rolls known as lumpiang sariwa made of ube crepes stuffed with root vegetables and tofu skins.
The cafe will have free wifi, and Dungca says they welcome teleworkers: “What I’ve learned during the pandemic is we need more spaces where people can escape their house and have a cafe where they can work.”
Later this year, the owners plan to open the upstairs dining room, which will show off Dungca’s more ambitious cooking. Dungca, once the chef de cuisine at fine-dining Restaurant Eve, will offer both an a la carte menu and a tasting menu, which will likely be seven to nine courses ranging from $95 to $125 with optional wine pairing. The menu will include some dishes that Dungca previously showed off at a pop-up version of Hiraya at the Block food hall in downtown DC. Look for foie gras and shrimp dumplings as well as cassava cake with smoked trout roe and crab fat—a savory take on a sweet dessert that’s often found at Filipino parties.
Ultimately, though, Dungca says he wants the menu to be a collaborative effort with his chef team, including Julie Cortes (formerly Kaliwa) and Carlos Lorenzo Rufo. Barman Al Thompson, whose cocktails you may have sipped at Barmini, Thip Khao, and Bronze, is behind the drink menu. A handful of cocktails are on the cafe menu to start, including a frozen coconut/pandan daiquiri and a calamansi crush.
“It’s not going to be just about me and my experiences. It will be about everyone’s experiences. The whole team has input on what they want to put to the table,” Dungca says.
Dungca says they wanted the space to look like a typical Filipino home with a big table in the center and welcoming view of the kitchen. The paintings on the wall literally came from a Filipino home; they were donated by Canlas’s friend’s mom. Dungca’s approach is highlighted in one painting in particular, showing a group of people lifting up and moving a house.
“It symbolizes the real true essence of what being Filipino is, which is bayanihan. What that means is all hands on deck,” Dungca says. “If someone’s like struggling, the whole village comes in to help.”